Arc One: An Old Friend in the World of Mortals
Wen Shi couldn’t understand smartphones, but he could understand human speech. After he finished listening to the leasing agent’s voice message, he beckoned towards Xia Qiao, indicating that the teenager should come closer.
Xia Qiao didn’t understand why, and he leaned over, cupping his ear.
His Wen-ge, with that unfairly handsome face, in that cold but pleasant voice, asked him a very spiritual question: “Is this similar to the telephones from the past? Then if I speak like this, can the other side hear me?”
Xia Qiao: “…”
He would have to do the splits to cross this generation gap.
Xia Qiao thought a little before he gripped his phone and switched the keyboard to an alphanumeric1 one. He said, “Ge, you should just think of this as a telegraph.”
Wen Shi understood. He straightened up and pointed to the screen. “Then send him a message and say that it’s convenient anytime.”
Xia Qiao: “…I don’t think that’s super convenient for me.”
Wen Shi frowned.
Xia Qiao shrank his neck back and said, “Ge, there are relatively a lot of people here today, so it’s still okay. You just haven’t seen what it’s usually like here in our neighborhood at night.”
“What’s it like?”
“Pretty frightening. I’ve lived here with Grandpa for over ten years, but even now I still don’t dare to go to the bathroom by myself at night, much less go outside.”
Wen Shi was expressionlessly silent for two seconds before he requested that classmate Xia Qiao beat it out of there.
He closed the door to the bathroom and gripped his collar to tug off his T-shirt, revealing the beautiful, lean line of his waist from underneath the fabric. He thought, somewhat unhappily, about how he was originally planning on being a good person and hauling up this disappointing grand-disciple of his. But now he felt like… maybe this branch really should just die out here.
By the time this ancestor, who was usually in daily self-seclusion, emerged from his shower, Xia Qiao had already finished receiving two more groups of guests. However, the woman from the name register mural, Zhang Biling, still hadn’t left yet.
She was currently standing in the entrance hall talking to Xia Qiao, one hand still hauling along her loose-lipped son.
“Grandfather Shen will be ascending the mountain tomorrow, right?” Zhang Biling asked.
“Mn.” Xia Qiao nodded.
“We’ll be departing at 6:45 in the morning. Will you be coming, ma’am?” Xia Qiao inquired very politely.
She stared at Shen Qiao’s memorial portrait and said softly, “6:45? Ai, I’ll probably be a bit busy, but if I can make it, I still want to send him off. Grandfather didn’t have it easy. Before—”
Before, this branch was extremely powerful; it just didn’t have many people in it. Falling to its current state – it was a pity.
Xia Qiao had heard those words many times already, and he could even recite them from memory. But Zhang Biling was a bit better than the others, and she stopped herself right as she was about to say it before she smiled awkwardly and apologetically at Xia Qiao.
Perhaps to make up for her blunder, she said to Xia Qiao, “You’re especially clean, we very rarely see someone as clean as you. Take care of yourself in the future.”
After saying that, she swatted her son on his back and whispered, brows furrowed, “Bow three times, hurry!”
The son was most likely in the middle of his rebellious phase, as he shook off her hand and unwillingly bent his neck forward a bit in a half-hearted manner. The last movement was even more so approximately equivalent to no movement, and after he was done, he pushed open the door and left.
Zhang Biling had no choice but to bid a hasty farewell and chase after her son.
Xia Qiao closed the door and walked back inside, completely baffled. When he lifted his head and saw Wen Shi, he couldn’t help but ask, “Wen-ge, why did he bow to me?”
“Because he said something that he shouldn’t have said here. If he doesn’t bow properly, he will gain bad karma.” Wen Shi twitched his lips at the distant portrait of the honorable founder.
“Oh, when he said that the honorable founder met—”
Wen Shi: “…”
“Pah.” Xia Qiao slapped himself and quickly said, “I didn’t say it, I stopped myself.”
Wen Shi silently rubbed at his damp hair. A moment later, he said, “Actually, there are plenty of people who say that he met a miserable end. It’s a fact, that’s all, there’s no point in getting worked up over it. As long as you’re not crazy enough to say it to the portrait, it’s fine. Especially don’t say it while you’re lighting incense for it.”
Xia Qiao asked carefully, “Why?”
Wen Shi raised his head and tossed the used towel over the back of a chair. His extremely dark eyes bored straight into Xia Qiao as he said quietly, “Because he’ll hear it.”
Xia Qiao: “…”
He stood there frozen for a while before he hastily rubbed at the goosebumps on his arms. Even his voice sounded weaker. “Isn’t he…”
Shen Qiao had told him this before: the honorable founder Chen Budao had cultivated the most austere path, consisting of no attachments, no hindrances, no emotions, and no fears. In any case, he didn’t really sound like a human; he was very powerful, but he didn’t have a good ending.
As for why it wasn’t good, Xia Qiao hadn’t understood, since he had been too young. It was probably along the lines of never being able to reincarnate again or something like that.
The more Xia Qiao thought about it, the more timid he became. He peered around, as if the honorable founder was floating right next to him.
Wen Shi looked at his cowardly appearance and spat out two words: “Grow up.”
At approximately nine at night, no new guests were coming, so the funeral musicians put away their suona, gongs, and drums before they gathered next to the backyard window, chatting and smoking.
Xia Qiao was bustling around in the kitchen. He used the bone broth that he had simmered earlier to make a few bowls of dragon beard noodles. Then, he cut up some smoked ham and scorched dried meat before piling them neatly on top of the noodles. He topped it off with a sprinkle of jade-green chopped scallions and invited the others to come eat.
This was Wen Shi’s first formal meal after waking up. Even though he said that he was hungry, he didn’t really touch his chopsticks.
Xia Qiao almost thought that he had messed up the noodles, and he tentatively tried a few bites of it. He felt like the soup was fresh and rich, the diced meat was crisp and fragrant, and the noodles were perfectly al dente.
The musicians slurped and swallowed their entire bowls of noodles just like that. After wiping their mouths and thanking him, they gathered in the back to smoke and chat idly again. Xia Qiao asked, “Wen-ge, are you not hungry?”
“I don’t really eat this.” Wen Shi answered.
Xia Qiao thought that he was being picky, and he was about to follow up with a few more questions when he saw Wen Shi shoot a look at the area next to the window. “They’re not leaving?”
“Are you talking about those uncles who were playing the suona and gongs?” Xia Qiao shook his head and said, “No, they spend the night here.”
Wen Shi: “Why?”
Xia Qiao’s face reddened, and he mumbled, “When handling funeral arrangements, you have to keep a vigil, but I’m the only one left in the Shen family. I don’t dare to sleep alone at night, so I spent some money and asked these uncles to stay the night with me.”
After saying that, he discovered that Wen Shi was looking at him with a complicated expression. Then, half out of mockery and half out of speechlessness, Wen Shi did a thumbs-up towards him.
Xia Qiao was afraid of being scolded, so he immediately started to flatter and suck up to Wen Shi. “I’ve already asked them to do it, and anyway, only the last night is left. But I feel like I’ll definitely sleep well tonight. With Wen-ge here, is there anything for me to be afraid of?! Nope.”
Wen Shi merely slanted a look at him before he said cryptically, “Then you better remember what you just said.”
That night, at around midnight, Xia Qiao was startled awake by the sound of a cat wailing, coming from someplace unknown.
The sound was both miserable and shrill, like a baby crying, but the cadence was a little longer. It was extremely distant before suddenly becoming quite close. The neighborhood was submerged in a thick, heavy night.
Xia Qiao blinked and could vaguely make out a patch of light. He thought blearily, Why is the moonlight glowing green today.
A few seconds later, he abruptly quivered.
While keeping vigil, he slept in the living room instead of the bedroom. He faced the inside of the room, squarely towards the incense burner table on which Shen Qiao’s urn was placed. Where would he be able to see the moon??
Then the light that he was seeing was…
Xia Qiao swallowed dryly and opened his eyes again. He saw half of an ashen face floating next to the incense burner table, lighting a red candle in utter silence. That tiny flame trembled without any wind, emitting a grayish-green light.
Xia Qiao’s scalp prickled and he tumbled off of the sofa bed, but he didn’t make any noise.
As the world whirled around him, he wanted to shake awake those uncles who were keeping him company during the vigil—only to discover that their temporary bunks were completely empty, with nobody inside of them.
Just as if he had always been the only person sleeping here.
Xia Qiao nearly threw a fit. He frantically tried to scramble to his feet, but his legs didn’t have any strength.
He kicked his legs a few times in quick succession! While he was struggling, something ice-cold suddenly swatted him lightly on the back of his head.
Xia Qiao instantly started howling and never stopped, like a shrieking chicken that had been trampled ten thousand times, until someone forcefully stuffed something into his mouth. A chilly voice said next to his ear, “You want to die?”
Xia Qiao’s fingers were shaking, and his nostrils flared open and closed. Quite a few seconds passed before he turned his head with wide eyes and saw Wen Shi, who was pinching a lighter in one hand and restraining Xia Qiao’s wildly clawing hand with the other. Wen Shi’s posture gave off much of a “if you move again, I’ll set you on fire” kind of attitude.
The atmosphere froze for a long time before Xia Qiao finally realized that the person who was just standing next to the incense burner table, silently lighting a candle, was precisely this ancestor.
After understanding that, he came back to life, and he even began to cry…
Wen Shi furrowed his eyebrows and first warned, “If you keep screaming I’ll toss you outside,” before he took out that ball of white hemp fabric from Xia Qiao’s mouth.
Xia Qiao sobbed, “Ge, I was counting on you to be brave, so how come you decided to personally come and haunt me ah? Is sleeping properly out of the question?”
Wen Shi stuffed the ball of cloth back into his mouth.
He hauled Xia Qiao up from the ground and suddenly asked out of nowhere, “Do you want to know what it means when other people are always telling you that you’re clean?”
Xia Qiao halted mid-sob; he didn’t understand what Wen Shi was trying to say. “Ah?”
Wen Shi said, “I’ll show you once.”
Without waiting for Xia Qiao to react, Wen Shi ordered lowly, “Close your eyes.”
Xia Qiao subconsciously obeyed. After that, he felt Wen Shi give him a heavy pat on the head, followed by pats on both his shoulders. All of a sudden, there was a slight heat in front of his eyes, accompanied by the scent of burning incense.
The heat circled three times around him before fading away.
“Open your eyes.” Wen Shi said.
Xia Qiao was a bit afraid, but he still opened his eyes—and then he was stupefied.
The Shen family’s living room was still in front of him, arranged in exactly the same way it had been before, but its colors and silhouettes were suffused with greenish-gray. It gave off a sort of indescribably strange feeling.
Stranger yet was when he glimpsed the dressing mirror not too far away, and he nearly started shrieking again.
Two figures were reflected in the mirror, presumably his and Wen Shi’s.
The reason he said ‘presumably’ was because he couldn’t make out the original shape of the figures at all. Actually, their appearances hadn’t changed, but their skin was shockingly pale.
In reality, there was a mole on the tip of his nose, as well as a shallow scar next to the corner of his eye from knocking into something as a child. But the Xia Qiao in the mirror didn’t have any of that, none of the tiny blemishes that an ordinary person would have. It was clearly his face, but it felt like someone else’s, looking at him eerily without blinking.
In such a dark, murky environment, it was truly a good setup for a haunting.
“What is this?” Xia Qiao’s voice cracked.
Wen Shi said, “The things I see when I close my eyes.”
Xia Qiao: “How come I look like this?”
Wen Shi: “What you usually see is something called a corporeal form. What you’re seeing right now is something called a spiritual form2.
“Normally, people have black mist lingering around them, some more than others. You don’t have any. That’s what it means to be clean.” Wen Shi’s voice seemed even colder in the night.
Xia Qiao trembled and looked at Wen Shi in a panic. Only then did he realize that Wen Shi also possessed that sort of completely spotless appearance, but at the same time, there was something… subtly different about him.
Because Wen Shi’s silhouette was half-transparent, just like a phantom.
“Wen-ge, why…” Xia Qiao stammered, “Why do you look like that?”
Wen Shi said quietly, “Because I’m missing my soul, so I’m empty. Whenever I find it, that’s when I’ll be liberated. That’s also the reason why I’m here.”
Xia Qiao felt bewildered and a bit shocked upon hearing that. He was about to continue his questioning when another burst of shrill, cat-like screeching came from outside the window.
He jumped with fright and turned his head in that direction—only to see three long and skinny human shadows reflected against the marbled floor. After twisting and distorting, they gained the appearance of something with four limbs perched on the ground, backs arched in an odd manner.
The shadows of their heads tilted ninety degrees and slowly turned towards the living room.
Borrowing the grayish-green candlelight inside the living room, Xia Qiao was finally able to discern what those things looked like. They resembled animals that had been run over, such as stray cats or dogs or the like. Their bodies were flat, their four feet elongated and slim, but they still had a human’s face. Crouched on the floor, they peered in from outside as black smoke hovered around their bodies, roiling and curling like winding kelp.
Xia Qiao’s heart was about to stop beating. He said breathily, “What are those???”
Wen Shi said, “The funeral musicians that you hired.”
Xia Qiao: “…”
When he thought about the kinds of things he had been sleeping near these past few days, he felt like his scalp was about to explode!
Xia Qiao almost went crazy. “W-what should we do?”
Wen Shi was mostly expressionless, but his fingers were turning over the edge of his sleeve over and over again.
“Wen-ge, you can do it, right?” Xia Qiao asked tentatively.
“Don’t know.” Wen Shi said.
Xia Qiao: “???”
Wen Shi didn’t speak again.
He really didn’t know. If this was a very long time ago, this sort of thing would be hardly anything to him. But currently, he truly didn’t dare to guarantee anything. After all, he couldn’t be considered a genuine living human; without his soul, it would be dangerous for him to achieve even a tenth of his original power.
But most importantly… he was starving.
He hadn’t eaten a real meal in twenty-five years, so he was very weak.
Just as Wen Shi pinched the knuckle of his index finger, about to make a move, the sound of a bell trilling suddenly rang out, startling Xia Qiao to the point that he nearly leaped into the air.
Flustered, Xia Qiao fished out the source of the mischief from his pocket—his phone, which he had nearly smashed into eight parts. Originally, he intended to immediately turn it off, but his shaking finger accidentally hit accept. At the same time, he bumped something that caused the flashlight on the front of the phone to turn on.
The harsh, stark white light shone straight ahead, sliding across the three monsters’ faces.
The next moment, the sound of a man’s quiet and low coughing came from the phone. His voice was somewhat hoarse and carried the exhaustion of sickness. He said, “Is this Mr. Xia Qiao? I’m Xie Wen.”
Perhaps the light was too intense, or perhaps the sudden phone call disrupted their momentum. Those three monsters abruptly lowered their heads and sniffed the ground before they circled twice on the spot. As if they were seeking out something, they swiftly rushed away.
Wen Shi hadn’t expected such a development to occur, and a rare confused expression appeared on his calm face.
Xia Qiao was even more so utterly dumbfounded.
When the man on the other side of the phone didn’t hear a response, he waited a few seconds before he called out a deep “hello.” Only then did Xia Qiao swallow and say, “H-hello, I’m Xia Qiao. Er…”
He hesitated briefly and said, “Excuse me, who are you?”
“I’m the tenant that contacted you previously. This afternoon, I said that I would give you a call later at night.” The man said, “I adjusted my schedule, I can come over tomorrow evening at around five. Is that okay?”
Xia Qiao nodded mechanically. “That’s fine, your phone call saved my life just now, I’m even fine with you coming at five in the morning.”
Of course, he said that without really meaning it.
Unexpectedly, the person on the other side of the call chuckled very lightly and said, “That works too. I just happen to be heading out around that time, it’s settled then.”
Xia Qiao finished humming his agreement, hung up the phone, and slumped weakly down on the couch, all in a sleepwalking fashion.
A good while later, he suddenly flailed and locked eyes with Wen Shi.
Five in the morning???
Was he insane???
The author has something to say:
The real deal (ML) is appearing next chapter, kiss kiss~
(press the “^” to go back to your spot in the chapter!)
- Think flip phone days, when you only had access to a number pad and certain letters were associated with each number ^
- 灵相 – ‘spiritual form’ is something that comes up a lot in this novel. I can’t find the direct translation for it, but it seems to be a quite obscure Buddhist term. The author later states that it’s basically equivalent to a ‘soul,’ so I’ll most likely just be translating it as soul from now on ^